Friday, 27 June 2014

Skomer update, birthday, degree results and seabird progress

It's been a month since my last post, mainly due to the heavy workload I'm currently coping with. Things on Skomer are still going very well and, with the help of the other staff and volunteers, I'm managing to keep on top of all my work.

End of May 
My first full day off since coming to the island (in mid April) was on the last day of May. This was my 22nd birthday and I celebrated with a fun day. It started at 04:15 with a CES (constant effort site) ringing session. It was so nice to extract and handle some small birds again, particularly as they don't bite and scratch! The sunrise was gorgeous and the weather was fantastic. After CES I took a slow wander back to the accommodation and managed to hand catch this tiny bunny.

Birthday Sunrise on Skomer
Tiny hand caught baby rabbit
Getting presents by post is awesome!

Bee, the warden, has been joking about having a pet black baby rabbit for months, so I couldn't resist. I had a fun 15 minutes holding the apathetic cutey and then let it go back where I found it. 

After lunch I went snorkelling in North Haven. This was an incredible experience! Once a little way from the shore, the Puffins and Razorbills surrounded me and watched me from above and below the water. There were also some fantastic bio-luminescing cone jellyfish, massive spider crabs, urchins, moon jellyfish and fantastic, life-rich, kelp forests. It also felt great to be back in the water. I've sincerely missed scuba diving recently and this snorkel took the edge off that longing.

The evening was spent having a long overdue shower (only about once every 5 days now) and then a surprise party where the other island staff turned up to celebrate with me. All in all a fantastic day and a birthday to remember! 

June
June has been an incredibly busy month. I've checked 200 Manx Shearwater burrows every 4-6 days and recorded and ringed both adults in each of these. I've also recorded whether an egg is present or not. This, combined with chick ringing at the end of the season, will give a good indication of adult survival and breeding success/productivity. The first chicks have started hatching now, along with the puffins. The puffin breeding season seems to be about 2-3 weeks behind average here. We've only started seeing lots of fish carrying puffins (adults with chicks) in the last week! 

Day old Manx Shearwater Chick
Puffin Chick (Puffling) - couple of days old

I've also finished colour ringing adult Kittiwakes and Razorbills, and am currently BTO ringing the Razorbill chicks (50+ chicks). I take wing and weight measurements of the chicks and repeat these a week later. I also managed to hand catch a Fulmar that was sitting at the top of the cliff where I do Manx burrow checks. A very long and slow army crawl got me close enough to the stubborn bird to catch it. I didn't get any good pictures whilst ringing it, as I was terrified of being covered in more sick, poo and bites. The picture below is of it in roughly the same position as where I caught it.

Hand caught this Fulmar whilst doing Manx Shearwater burrow checks
Kittiwake colour ringing
Colour ringed adult razorbill ready for release
and prepared to give me a parting bite
Razorbill chick checks & ringing - a first class way to celebrate

The first Razorbill chick checks I did were a form of celebration of my degree result. I'm incredibly pleased that I managed to get a 1st class honours degree despite all the difficulties I've had in the last year, and having to juggle my final exams and assignments with Skomer work. It's a real relief. I'm also honoured to have been recommended by my School (School of Biological Sciences) for media coverage at graduation. It will be nice to have some pictures and video taken of me without being covered in bird poo for once!

Champagne & cream tea celebration
thanks to the researchers living at The Farm.
Particular thanks to Alastair for the meal
before this and the Champagne!

Island life and the demands of the work started to get to me a couple of weeks ago, so I decided to take a break before the chick ringing and monitoring season began. I went to the Northumberland coast to see Chris and find out where he's working. It's been incredibly hard being away from him for 2 months, and was so nice to see the tern monitoring he's doing with his 4 colleagues. As a 1st class treat, to celebrate our first anniversary and both having jobs, we treated ourselves to a couple of nights in a beautiful B&B on the beach in Beadnell. 

Panorama of luxury for 2 field workers!
A room with a view towards Chris' office - heaven!

Chris' office rivals mine for its beauty and continuous cacophony of birds. The team of 5 are valiantly managing to keep a colony of nesting Little Terns alive through high tides and against badgers, foxes, otters, egg collectors and dog walkers!

Chris on the job with a stunning view
Feeding Arctic Terns right on Chris' doorstep
Ringed Arctic Tern perched right next to the visitors platform
Hungry tern chicks

I was only planning to stay Thursday - Saturday morning and then get back to Skomer on the first Sunday boat. However, a turn in the weather on the west coast meant there were no Sunday boats, so I got to stay an extra day! Fortuitously this meant I could join Chris and his colleagues on a National Trust "get together" picnic on The Farnes. The density of nesting terns is unbelievable! It was great to meet The Farnes team, and a real treat to be there at the same time as the Bridled Tern. All in all a brilliant way to round of the holiday. This is the first time I've ever had a real holiday, away from work, with no lingering guilt that I should be doing an essay, revising, or something along those lines. It made me feel quite grown up and really did mark the end of my academic career (for now). 

Flat calm seas at Seahouses
On our way around The Farnes
The welcoming committee
Oblivious to the beauty above him...
...or the imminent dangers...
...but he did make a new friend.
Freshly hatched Arctic Tern chick
1 or 2 day old tiny chick
Slightly older Arctic chick (1 - 2 weeks)
Bridled Tern Sandwich ... get it.
Poor record shot, but got to love that forehead!
We had gorgeous views of the Bridled Tern

Since I got back I've been catching up with work. I've had 2 trips back to the Razorbill colony to get repeat wing and weight measurements of the chicks, and find the newly hatched one. Liam Langley, a fellow NGB (Next Generation Birders) member (http://nextgenerationbirders.blogspot.co.uk/) and Skomer researcher helped me with some. 

Liam cuddling his new best friend
Some of the chicks are becoming proper little adults now

I'm also trying to get better at moth and butterfly ID. It helps that 2 traps are run most nights, and that the moths come into our kitchen at night.

Buff Tip (Phalera bucephala)
Burnished Brass (Diachrysia chrysitis)
Poplar Hawk-moth (Laothoe populi)

The weather has continued to be nice, so I'm slowly working through my suncream supplies. Today has been very rainy though, so I'm catching up on data entry and this blog post.

Sunrise, 45 mins after starting my 24hr Puffin feeding watch
2 down, 3 to go

The next month will involve ringing and measuring 50 - 100 Razorbill and Puffin chicks, ringing 300 - 500 Lesser Black-backed Gull chicks, colour ringing adult Puffins, three 24 hour Puffin feeding watches, 4 nights counting ringed : non-ringed Lesser Black-backed chicks, and the continuation of colour ring resightings and Manx burrow checks. All in all it should keep me busy and I'll be glad of a 3 day break for graduation mid-July!


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